Ryan Pulock

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Islanders look to keep improving in second year under Trotz

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — The New York Islanders know about the moves other teams in the Metropolitan Division made in the offseason. It just doesn’t matter to them.

After finishing second in the division and reaching the second round of the playoffs, the Islanders return mostly the same roster and are confident they can be successful again in the second year under team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz.

”You look at our division, and you talk about teams definitely got better,” forward Jordan Eberle said Thursday at media day. ”The additions they made, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. The nice thing with our group, we know what to expect. It’s just a matter of putting in the work, playing the right way.”

Thanks to a defensive-minded system in Trotz’s first year with the team, the Islanders finished second in the Metropolitan at 48-27-7. They followed that with a four-game sweep of Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs when everything seemingly went their way. After a 10-day layoff to start the next round, nothing went New York’s way as the Islanders couldn’t rediscover their scoring touch and were swept by Carolina.

”I don’t think you ever really get over it,” captain Anders Lee said of the series loss. ”You learn from it and you take away from it what you can, but it’s always going to be there.”

The Islanders pursued forward Artemi Panarin in free agency to bolster the offense, but he decided to sign with the crosstown-rival Rangers. Still, the Islanders retained most of their own free agents, including Eberle, Lee and Brock Nelson

”I am not a believer in change for the sake of change,” Lamoriello said. ”We looked at our team and we felt the players that we wanted to bring back we were able to do that. … We’re happy with the people we have right now.”

After a different head coach in each of the previous three training camps, the Islanders have some continuity this year. They know what to expect with Trotz and look to replicate what they did well last season.

More things to know as the Islanders head into their first on-ice sessions on Friday:

GOALIES: One big change was made in goal, with the addition of veteran Semyon Varlamov to replace Vezina Trophy finalist and fan-favorite Robin Lehner. That gives Thomas Greiss his third goalie partner in three seasons. Greiss and Lehner were solid all season, sharing the William Jennings Trophy for the team allowing the fewest goals in the league.

Greiss enters the final year of his contract with Ilya Sorokin’s move from the KHL a possibility next season. Greiss was 23-14-2 with five shutouts, a .927 save-percentage and 2.28 goals-against average in 43 games last season. In four seasons with the Islanders, he is 85-51-13 with 10 shutouts, a .916 save-percentage and 2.69 GAA over 162 games.

Varlamov, who has started all but 17 of 448 games he’s appeared in over his 11-year career with Washington and Colorado, is coming off a 20-19-9 season with two shutouts, a .909 save-percentage and 2.87 GAA in 49 games for the Avalanche.

EYES ON DOBSON: A strong team defense was the Islanders’ blueprint last season, and they return seven defenseman in Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews. Noah Dobson will get a long look in camp, but is a long shot to make the roster – barring a major injury or trade involving one of the entrenched top-seven in the unit.

”There’s a lot of good defensemen,” Boychuk said. ”So it’s just the competition, pushing each other to be the best we can.”

Toews had a strong camp a year ago, but began the season with Bridgeport of the AHL before being called up in December. If the 19-year-old Dobson, selected 12th overall in the 2018 NHL draft, doesn’t make the opening-day roster, he must be sent back to juniors.

WAITING FOR BELMONT: The Islanders will be entering the second season of an expected three-year arrangement to split home games between the Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center while a new arena is built at Belmont Park. The target start is the 2021-22 season.

Construction at the new site hasn’t begun, and the town of Floral Park filed a lawsuit this week to stop the project. However, Lamoriello was confident the arena will be built on time.

”My understanding is … everything is on schedule,” Lamoriello said. ”I have total confidence it will be there when they say it will be.”

Islanders re-sign Beauvillier for two years

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The New York Islanders re-signed the last of their remaining restricted free agents on Wednesday when they came to terms with forward Anthony Beauvillier on a two-year contract.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the team, but it will reportedly pay him $2.1 million per season.

The 28th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Beauvillier has developed into a solid player for the Islanders, and even though his overall production regressed a bit this past season he has still shown he can be a 20-goal scorer at the NHL level.

Beauvillier, 22, will still be eligible for restricted free agency when his current deal ends after the 2020-21 season.

Barring some sort of unforeseen trade in the coming weeks this should wrap up the Islanders’ offseason. It has been a mostly quietly that saw them retain all of their top UFA forwards (Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle) while swapping Valtteri Filppula for Derick Brassard. They also replaced Robin Lehner with Semyon Varlamov.

With Beauvillier signed the next big deals for Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders’ front office will be Mathew Barzal, Devon Toews, and Ryan Pulock, all of whom are eligible for restricted free agency after this season.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Key defensemen enter contract years, possible free agency

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Despite being the most exciting offseason since PHT started in 2010, the NHL will probably always lag behind the NBA when it comes to stars moving in free agency.

Rudely, players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid don’t even flirt with drama, instead sticking with their teams by signing extensions, often almost at the first possible moment they legally can. Again, rude.

So, it’s important to get that disclaimer out of the way. Chances are, the fascinatingly robust list of pending free agent defensemen will narrow down, possibly starting before the 2019-20 season begins.

But, even so, it’s quite the list, and a lot of these defensemen will earn enormous, team-changing raises, whenever their next deals get signed.

And, hey, sticking with your team can still alter its course. Just look at how scary that Drew Doughty extension ($11 million AAV through 2026-27) seems today compared to when Doughty re-upped with the Kings in July 2018.

Let’s consider some of the most intriguing names, split by UFA and RFA designations. Cap Friendly’s listings were helpful in putting this together, and being that these lists aren’t comprehensive, you may enjoy digging deeper there to find even more.

Prominent UFAs

Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), Roman Josi (Predators), Tyson Barrie (Maple Leafs), Torey Krug (Bruins), Jared Spurgeon (Wild, more on them here), Justin Faulk (Hurricanes), Jake Muzzin (Maple Leafs), Justin Schultz (Penguins), Christopher Tanev (Canucks), T.J. Brodie (Flames), Sami Vatanen (Devils), Travis Hamonic (Flames).

The headliners of this list – particularly Pietrangelo and Josi – must have licked their chops when Erik Karlsson signed that mammoth eight year, $92M ($11.5M AAV) contract with the Sharks. Pietrangelo and Josi don’t boast multiple Norris Trophies, yet they might also be healthier than Karlsson when he signed his deal, so there could be interesting value debates.

Either way, Roman Josi’s borderline-insulting $4M won’t cut it after 2019-20.

The marquee names are the most intriguing, yet there are interesting situations as you go down a rung and more. And those are the players who are arguably more likely to sign with new teams.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Would Toronto be able to bring back even one of Barrie or Muzzin after next season? Are the Hurricanes destined to move on from Faulk, or would they instead keep Faulk and move someone else, like Dougie Hamilton? Players like Faulk, Schultz, and Vatanen could see their value shift in big ways depending upon how well or poorly they perform in 2019-20. Will P.K. Subban‘s arrival hurt Vatanen, or will the former Ducks defenseman thrive in a more relaxed role next season for New Jersey?

There are a lot of intriguing situations to watch there.

Notable RFAs

Josh Morrissey (Jets), Thomas Chabot (Senators), Samuel Girard (Avalanche), Mikhail Sergachev (Lightning), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), Darnell Nurse (Oilers), Brandon Montour (Sabres), etc.

These players don’t have the same leverage as they’re restricted, but it should still be interesting if there’s a ripple effect when the Jets have to pay Morrissey, and how strenuous negotiations could be between Chabot and the penny-pinching Senators. Tampa Bay’s really brought Sergachev along slowly, and you wonder if they’d be wise to try to extend him before a potential breakthrough?

***

Again, extensions will kill some of the wildest daydreams by crossing names off the list long before July 2020. Don’t assume your team will happen upon a Pietrangelo or Spurgeon.

That said, there are certain “something has to give” situations. The Maple Leafs may know that they’re only getting Muzzin and Barrie for a limited time. The Bruins have a tight squeeze happening, especially with Charlie McAvoy still needing an RFA deal this summer.

Either way, teams should savor deals like Josi at $4M, because they won’t last much longer.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hurricanes rally around injuries, take 2-0 series lead vs. Islanders

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It’s almost as if adversity galvanizes the Carolina Hurricanes, with every blow bringing the team closer together in their fight for the Stanley Cup.

These particular playoffs — their first in a decade — haven’t been kind to the Hurricanes, who entered the game already without Andrei Svechnikov, Micheal Ferland and Jordan Martinook. Injuries didn’t halt their progress in Round 1, winning a seven-game series against the Washington Capitals despite missing some key pieces.

And while three more names were added to that growing list — queue up that one Drowning Pool song — Carolina banded together to come from behind as they took a 2-0 Round 2 series lead against the New York Islanders after a 2-1 win on Sunday.

“It’s not easy, that’s for sure, because you’re asking a lot of guys that are out of their comfort zone and doing things they don’t normally do,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’amour said following the game. “But that’s playoffs, that’s part of it. It is a war of attrition a lot of times in the playoffs. We’ve just got to figure it out.”

Trevor van Riemsdyk was gone just 36 seconds into the game and Petr Mrazek followed suit in the second period as he slid from across his crease on an apparent non-contact injury. Saku Maenalanen was the third body to hit the trainer’s table, with his injury happening in the third period after providing a big assist.

“That’s tough, but hopefully those guys will heal up quickly,” Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. “But we’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t been playing that are ready to step in and do their job.”

That’s six injuries and a 2-0 series lead heading back to Raleigh, with a much needed extra day off in between.

Carolina’s ability to deal with the ebbs and flows of a game is remarkable at this point.

Sunday’s game was tight through two periods the Islanders took a 1-0 lead from Mathew Barzal on the power play, New York’s first goal on the man-advantage in their past 10 tries.

In the second, before Mrazek was replaced by Curtis McElhinney, the Hurricanes failed to produce on an extended 5-on-3. Mrazek’s injury soon after must have felt like a kick to the ribs while they were already lying on the floor.

But somewhere between there and the beginning of the third, Carolina regrouped.

Warren Foegele‘s fifth came just 17 seconds into the period to tie the game and the Hurricanes had a 2-1 lead just 48 seconds later when Nino Niederreiter put the perfect tip on a point shot for his first of the playoffs.

“Leadership in that room,” Brind’amour said. “It’s simple. Jordan Staal. Justin Williams. Jaccob Slavin. Those are our best players every night. They’re leading a group and they don’t have a choice but to follow these guys.”

Brind’Amour figured Mrazek’s injury was similar to the one he picked up back in November, one that forced him to miss a month of action. Yikes.

McElhinney proved to be a formidable backup. He had just 82 minutes of playoff experience heading into this game but he was up to the task, making 17 saves in relief.

One wonders how long the Hurricanes can be without such a large contingent of their roster. Game 3 could conceivably look like the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina’s Amerian Hockey League affiliate) are getting a game in the playoffs depending on the severity of the ailments. And the Islanders had their chances in the third, with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Pulock both hitting he crossbar and Anders Lee narrowly missing an open net on Pulock’s rebound.

For now, however, we’ll continue to believe that the Hurricanes can manage in some of the most unappealing situations. They’ve done it so far. Why doubt them?

Game 3 goes Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN from PNC Arena. 


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Staal’s OT goal lifts Hurricanes to Game 1 win over Islanders

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After scoring the game-tying goal in the third period of their Game 7 win in Round 1, Jordan Staal scored another massive goal for the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night when he scored at the 4:04 mark of overtime to lift his team to a 1-0 win over the New York Islanders, giving them an early 1-0 lead in the series.

It is Staal’s fourth goal of the playoffs and capped off a defensive slugfest that was highlighted by great goaltending, close calls, and a couple of premature celebrations for Islanders fans that probably only added to their frustration in the loss.

Maybe it was just a feeling out process between two teams that are new to this stage.

Or maybe it was the result of the Islanders still shaking off the rust from a week-long layoff and the Hurricanes still trying to come down from a double overtime Game 7 in Washington.

Or perhaps it was simply the play of goalies Robin Lehner and Petr Mrazek (or more accurately a combination of all three factors), but offense was nearly impossible to come by on Friday night.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Both goalies made stunning stops on breakaways, with Mrazek making a beautiful glove save to rob Josh Bailey in the first period, and Lehner stoning Greg McKegg in the second period with a sprawling toe save. 

The Islanders had two other close calls throughout the night.

In the second period, Mathew Barzal appeared to score when he deposited the puck into an open net only to have it immediately called back because of a goaltender interference penalty on Anders Lee, even though Lee appeared to be shoved into Mrazek by Carolina’s Lucas Wallmark.

With under six minutes to play in regulation, Ryan Pulock blasted a one-timer that sounded the goal horn at the Barclays Center and ignited the crowd, only for everyone to realize the puck did not actually go in, but was instead lodged on the outside of the net.

They never really came close to scoring after that.

After sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1, this is the Islanders’ first loss of the 2019 playoffs.

Game 2 of Hurricanes-Islanders will take place on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.